July 14, 2005
Fantasy Football Widows and Orphans
Posted by Christine Hurt

Espn

In my introduction to the strange world of gambling, I have found that in the U.S., there is a big elephant in the room when regulators talk about the dangers of gambling.  Sports gambling.  At the same time that the DOJ is up in arms at the Internet gambling industry, which is about a $5B/year industry worldwide, the illegal sports gambling industry in the U.S. rakes in as much as $380B/year.  (Yes, not a typo.  I've chased that figure back to the source -- $380 billion.)  But the sacred cow standing next to the elephant is Fantasy Sports.

I am a Fantasy Football widow.

I have read story after story about how someone lost a child or a spouse to the evils of casino gambling, but no one ever tells the sad tale of the home torn apart by Fantasy Sports.  No one ever depicts the ugly scenes on an October Sunday, when one child wants to watch Buzz Lightyear and the other wants Daddy to rake a big leaf pile, but Daddy sits on the couch with the remote in one hand, barely sentient, muttering, "Wait.  This guy's my receiver.  Can you move over a little?"  Opponents of Internet gambling point out that it is 24-hours a day.  With Fantasy Football, players have to watch every NFL game.  There's an NFL game on nearly every day during the season.  (I have no idea how Fantasy Baseball widows cope.)  Time not spent watching TV is spent at the computer.  "Sure, honey.  But first I have to make some trades."  You may not lose your life savings, but you can lose your sanity.

But Fantasy Sports are impervious to regulation and completely out in the open where any one can play.  ESPN, NFL, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo, the television networks, just about everybody has a fantasy sports site where you and your friends can create a fantasy sports league and be provided various levels of statistics and analysis for various fees.  No one in Congress seems to care, and the "league managers," or site sponsors, seem not to know that within these sports leagues, gambling takes place.  They would be shocked, shocked to realize that people were not playing for the mere love of the game.  (I'm picturing walking into a headshop in the 70's and telling someone who looks like Chong what people actually do with bongs.   Chong looks shocked, shocked.)

So, let's get this straight for the audience back home.  I live in Wisconsin.  If I decided to bet with Jason in my suite (hi, Jason!) on the Green Bay Packers v. Minnesota Vikings game, that's illegal under WI law.  If I called him or emailed about the bet, then we would also be breaking federal law (Wire Act).  If I placed a bet with an offshore bookie, then I would be breaking both state and federal law.  However, if Jason and I create a fantasy football league on espn.com, ESPN will never ask us if we are wagering on who will win the fantasy football league.  We're just doing it for fun, right?  We're just spending thousands of hours a week for fun, right?

In all three bills introduced in the 108th Congress seeking to prohibit Internet gambling (H.R. 21, H.R. 2143, and S. 627, the definition of "bets and wagers" excluded two types of activities.  The first exclusion applies to stocks, commodoties, derivatives, and insurance products.  (Interesting that we would have to sort that out.)  The second exclusion was:  Fantasy Sports!!!

S. 627, 108th Cong. s. 5361(1)(E)(viii) (2003):  "any participation in a simulation sports game, an educational game, or a contest, that (I) is not dependent solely on the outcome of any single sporting event or nonparticipant's singular individual performance in any single sporting event; (II) has an outcome that reflects the relative knowledge of the participants, or their skill at physical reaction or physical manipulation (but not chance), and, in the case of a simulation sports game, has an outcome that is determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of sporting events; and (III) offers a prize or award to a participant that is established in advance of the game or contest and is not determined by the number of participants or the amount of any fees paid by those participants."

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This, from Christine Hurt at Conglomerate, is hilarious. Be sure to read the ..." [more] (Tracked on July 29, 2005 @ 13:31)

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Comments (13)

1. Posted by DannyNoonan on July 14, 2005 @ 9:46 | Permalink

"With Fantasy Football, players have to watch every NFL game. There's an NFL game on nearly every day during the season."

In a perfect world maybe. But in real life we can only watch football on two days per week. All games are on Sunday except for one Monday night game. There are occasional Saturday games after the college season ends. And of course there is a game on Thanksgiving, a holiday in which we give thanks for football. I think there might be a few early season Thursday games as well. But every day? Not by a long shot.

"I live in Wisconsin. If I decided to bet with Jason in my suite (hi, Jason!) on the Green Bay Packers v. Minnesota Vikings game, that's illegal under WI law."

I think it's only illegal if you bet on the Vikings.

But seriously, I think that fantasy football leagues generally are "just for fun." Sure there is money involved but not a lot. $50 or $100 for a whole season is not a big deal. People play in the leagues to make the season more fun. They really do. Winning is nice, but no one really plays for the money. Money is involved to make it fun.


2. Posted by Christine on July 14, 2005 @ 10:05 | Permalink

Hey, Danny. Isn't there Thursday Night Football? I'm sure that it just seems daily to me. Maybe because of our whole DVR thing, it is daily!

I understand your point about $50 or $100, but in our gambling regime here, the amounts are irrelevant. Some slot machines are one penny, but they are still illegal in most states. I think a lot of people say the same thing about casinos -- they are willing to leave the casino $50 lighter because that $50 bought them some entertainment value.

Would you still play fantasy football if your $50 went to the commissioner and there was no pot?


3. Posted by DannyNoonan on July 14, 2005 @ 11:49 | Permalink

"Would you still play fantasy football if your $50 went to the commissioner and there was no pot?"

Would most people? Maybe. After all, bragging rights are as important as the pot. But probably not. Would I? Yes. My chances of winning the pot in my league would be about the same either way. I'm not the football guru my brother is and I don't have the most impressive FF track record. Anyway, slot machines and internet gambling and most other kinds of gambling shouldn't be illegal either.


4. Posted by Paul Stancil on July 14, 2005 @ 12:11 | Permalink

Christine Hurt's Husband Responds:

Those in glass houses . . .

Me: So, what are you doing?

Christine: Blogging.

Me: It's 3:27 A.M. on a Tuesday. Shouldn't you be in bed?

Christine: I can stop any time I want to.

Me: The Conglomerate is not going to come unGlommed if you take an eight-hour break for sleep, especially if you can continue to convince Gordon or Vic to do more foreign travel and broaden your time zone coverage.

Christine: It's just a little post. One little post about the latest SEC outrage won't hurt me.

(Intervention Begins)

Me: Honey, come downstairs. The people who love you are here, and they want to talk to you.


5. Posted by Scott Moss on July 14, 2005 @ 16:27 | Permalink

Score: Christine 1, Paul 1; Paul just caught up to Christine, for those of you who "own" Paul in the Fantasy Gambling on Marital Spats....


6. Posted by A E Hansen on July 29, 2005 @ 17:42 | Permalink

"Would you still play fantasy football if your $50 went to the commissioner and there was no pot?"

Bit of a straw man argument. Take away the betting aspect of it and the cost would be much, much lower. In my league fee for the website is only $70, which translates into only about $5 person in the league.


7. Posted by flaime on July 29, 2005 @ 19:28 | Permalink

My league is free, and we don't pay anything.


8. Posted by Michael on July 30, 2005 @ 6:20 | Permalink

Clause (III) probably forbids normal fantasy sports pools -- the pot is determined by the number of people who participate _and_ how much they put in. Either of those would result in a violation. I would hope that it is never prosecuted, though.

Note also that the whole paragraph also exempts things like carnival games, which are contests that (I) depend on the participant's performance (II) at physical reaction or manipulation (III) with a fixed prize determined in advance.


9. Posted by Scott Moss on July 30, 2005 @ 19:04 | Permalink

Back in the day (early or mid-90s), when fantasy baseball was bit and other sports not so much, it was common to pay $29.95 to be in a league with no cash payout -- you were playing for fun, and the folks who got $29.95 per team were providing a service. The spreading of the internet, and the espn/yahoo realization that we'd homepage them if they provided free fantasy sports, is what made it free.


10. Posted by Justin on August 1, 2005 @ 11:14 | Permalink

We pay $25.00 for our league which goes into a pot that pays out to
first and second place finishers.

League details aside, though, I guess you could call me a FF widower.
While my wife and I both participate in the league, she does most of the
work. You know - sitting on the couch flipping between Fox and CBS
while surfing the net for up-to-date stats.

In fact, SHE's the one that suggested buying the NFL season package from
the satellite company (Other husbands, eat your hearts out!). Well, we
have Dish Network, but they don't have the NFL package. So we might
have to switch. But I'll wait for HER to make that request...

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